|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
|L to R: Paul Kimport, Munish Narula and Alfredo Aguilar|
Last night, community development corporation The Girard Coalition hosted three of Philadelphia's notable restaurant owners for a panel discussion on what it takes to survive and thrive "in the biz."
Munish Narula (Tiffin), Alfredo Aguilar (Las Cazuelas) and Paul Kimport (Standard Tap, Johnny Brenda's) shared their accumulated knowledge with a diverse group of would-be restaurateurs. S.C.O.R.E., a free, nonprofit small business counseling service, facilitated the discussion and added "the lender's perspective" to the workshop.
The discussion ranged from acquiring financing (be prepared to personally guarantee all loans with your own assets, and you better have 20 percent of what you are asking for on hand) to the thorny problem of employee healthcare (anything you offer, you must offer to every employee). Though the discussion covered more topics than we have room for here, find the most critical points below.
The Business Plan Is All
Every restaurant owner could not over-emphasize the importance of having a well-developed business plan, including projecting the numbers on best and worst case scenarios. "Too many people run through all of their start-up money just to get open," said Narula. "You have to have enough money, and a plan to obtain more, to pay your employees and vendors for at least 18 months to two years. Sixty to 70 percent of restaurants fail in the first two years because they did not have the money to sustain operating losses."
Clarifying and expressing your ideas in writing, in the business plan, is critical to obtaining initial financing. "Every idea you have," said Kimport, "bounce off other people, finance professionals especially, and vet every idea. You have to defend your ideas and let everyone insult your precious plan to make sure they are solid."
All three restaurant owners took the hammer-in-hand approach to opening their first restaurant. They all advised doing as much yourself as possible, as well as shopping around for used equipment, which can save thousands of dollars ï¿½ except on refrigeration, which Kimport pointed out "you want the warranties and service for, because refrigeration is both tricky and critical. You could lose thousands of dollars in inventory if you have refrigeration failure."
Aguilar stated that he started Las Cazuelas with just one small dining room, then when word spread and guests started waiting an hour for a table, he expanded to a second dining room, using savings from the restaurant's cash flow. He later expanded once again to an upper floor, and purchased the building he was leasing. "Organic growth" and "sweat equity" were the watchwords for all three entrepreneurs.
Know Your Numbers
Narula's background in finance has served him well in operating Tiffin, evidenced by his brand's rapid expansion. "Too many restaurateurs do not know their numbers," he said. "If you don't know your expenses, your food cost, your overtime, you could have a very successful restaurant and still not make it." Though all three owners had extensive experience (15-20 years, on average) in restaurants before they struck out on their own, due diligence with the numbers, not cooking a mean omelette, was what kept them showing profit.
The world has been consumed by buttercream and obsessed with 70/30 lean-to-fat ratios ever since two of the biggest and most enduringly edible food trends came and stayed: cupcakes and cheeseburgers.
The clever photog has inspired legions of copycats who post their efforts on Flickr, but so far not a one has topped her for eye appeal.ï¿½ Pencil in a few hours to try it at home, but don't offer us any mid-rare.
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
|A Drosophila melanogaster trap with victims|
'Tis the season for juicy local cherries, sticky Mexican mangoes and beer, beer, beer. What do all these things have in common? Fruit flies ï¿½ species Drosophila melanogaster, poetically Greek for "dark-bellied dew lover" ï¿½ enjoy them even more than we do, and if you leave one strawberry on the counter for even a second, the petite pests will invade your kitchen.
WikiHow has a multi-pronged battle plan for fighting a major infestation, but if you have just an annoying few settling into your banana bowl, you can get rid of them quickly by using their alias against them: They are also known as vinegar flies.
In a small glass or cup, pour an inch of apple cider vinegar and a few drops of liquid dish soap. The flies will be attracted to the cider vinegar, then be taken down by the soap and summarily drowned. Winner, you.
If you've ever dreamed of running your own speakeasy or bringing your grandmother's cuisine to the masses, the Girard Coalition, Inc. is presenting a free workshop on how to open a restaurant on Tuesday, July 14.
Paul Kimport of the Standard Tap and Johnny Brenda's, Munish Narula, president of Tiffin Indian Cuisine and Alfredo Aquilar, founder of Las Cazuelas will speak, as well as answer questions, on the hazards of opening and running a restaurant in Philadelphia.
The workshop is free but space is limited, so reserve a spot now by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visting girardcoaltion.org/restaurantworkshop.
How to Open a Restaurant Workshop, Tue., July 14, 6 p.m., Girard Coalition, Inc., 704 W. Girard Ave., 215-825-8821, girardcoalition.org
|Photos | Felicia D'Ambrosio
On Friday, June 19, the Mink family's new-old Oyster House (1516 Sansom St., 215-567-7683) served more than 2,800 of their eponymous bivalves on the half-shell. A million more mollusks have met their end at the talented hands of Ameen Lawrence, a 10-year veteran of the Sansom Street restaurant under its prior owner who's stayed on, along with two other longtime shuckers.
Lawrence shared a few pro tricks to extracting the shy creatures from their shells, starting with obtaining the correct tool. A pointed oyster knife is the key to defeating the strong muscle that holds the upper and lower shells tightly closed.
|Ameen Lawrence in his office
Holding the oyster cup-side down on a kitchen towel, Lawrence finds the hinge that holds the two shells together, the critical pivot point where the knife is inserted. In one smooth motion, he applies 40 pound of pressure to breach that hinge, twists his wrist and levers the shell open. "You have to find that pivot point," he says. "All oysters are not the same ... you have to figure each type out, find out if the hinge is tight. Oysters have feelings, so you got to feel them."
Once the oyster is exposed, Lawrence gently cuts the muscle that attaches the oyster to its shell, and uses the tip of his knife to flick out pieces of broken shell and any dirt or particles of grit. He works quickly and gracefully, and spills not a drop of the flavorful liquor that bathes the creature inside its shell. When I admire his fast pace, the shucker quickly corrects my notion of speed.
"I don't want to do it fast," he says. "I want to do it to perfection. Fast is not good. You end up with shells, dirt in there. There's only one way to do it ï¿½ the right way." He grins. "I like being the best."
Oyster (and clam) fanatics are well-served by Lawrence's work ethic. Each bivalve rests, pristine, in a bed of crushed ice, ready to be accented with classic mignonette, homemade cocktail sauce and lemons. Bargain-seekers should hit the weekday happy hour from 5 ro 7 p.m., when mildly briny East Point oysters from the Delaware Bay are just $1 each. Otherwise, a rotating variety, from the extravagantly fluted Royal Miyagi to the juicy Choptank Sweet, are priced individually, in dozens and half-dozens.
Working with a single food item for 10 years can have a devastating effect on an individual's enjoyment of said item. Do oysters hold their deluxe appeal for this shucker?
"I'm not crazy about them," says Lawrence. "The owners don't have to worry about me eating them."
After the jump, step-by-step photos of how to shuck an oyster. (Though Lawrence recommends leaving it to the professionals.)
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
|Preparing a flamed orange garnish|
You may know bartender extraordinaire Christian Gaal by his impeccably turned-out classic and original cocktails at boï¿½tes like APO and Noble American Cookery; or you may have spotted his sleeve garters and the twirly terminus of his waxed mustaches flying about as he shakes your drink to chilly perfection.
Either way, the man knows booze. Though tending bar professionally for a mere 2.5 years, he can spout both interesting historical trivia and lessons on the science of creating memorable cocktails.ï¿½ Our first lesson from MixMaster Christian is a fiery finishing move: flaming an orange peel to add a touch of aromatic essential oil to your cocktail.
Step One: Cutting a proper peel
"When I cut a peel to flame, I like to make it big enough to add an optimum amount of oil to the surface of the drink," says Christian.ï¿½ "One inch by three to four inches is ideal.ï¿½ Cut the peel, including plenty of the inner white pith, which will give the peel spring when you squeeze it to ignite the oils."
Step Two: Warming inner oils
Christian holds the peel high above the drink in a springy C-shape and warms the skin of the orange with a butane lighter for about 5 seconds. "Exposing the peel to the flame brings the oils to a high temperature and prepares them to ignite."
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
|Cut a large twist for flaming purposes|
Step Three: ACTION
After warming the peel for a few seconds, pinch the curl of peel firmly and the oils will spray out into the lighter flame, causing a quick flash. This takes a bit of practice. Sacrifice a few oranges to getting it right before trying to impress a date.
Step Four: Applying the oil to the drink
Squeeze the flamed peel over the drink to coat the surface with oil droplets, then run the skin side of the peel around the edge of the glass.ï¿½ Discard the flamed peel; the pith will make the drink bitter.
Keep your oranges peeled for upcoming Lesson Two: Ice is what you make it.
|Chef Jeff Michaud|
The tools and treats at Foster's Homewares can compel even the most minimal of cooks to gleefully hand over his AmEx. In addition to the shiniest KitchenAids and sharpest Japanese knives, Foster's hosts some of the region's newsiest chefs for demonstrations and classes.
On Thursday, June 25, Osteria executive chef and co-owner Jeff Michaud will demonstrate the pizza-making skills he first learned at age 13 at his hometown pizza shop in New Hampshire.ï¿½ After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Michaud worked at the Caribou Club in Aspen, Colorado. He came to Philadelphia to work as sous chef to chef Marc Vetri at Vetri, and later followed in his boss' footsteps by jetting off to Bergamo, Italy to further hone his craft.
Michaud's pizza has been acclaimed by every critic local and national with a taste for pie; most recently, Osteria made number 9 on Alan Richman's top 25 pizzas in the U.S. list for GQ. Michaud's two-hour Foster's 'demo will cover the basics of dough making and forming, baking pizza at home and sampling of pizza margherita, pizza tonno (tuna) and pizza capra e zucchini (white pizza with zucchini, ricotta cheese, and pesto).
The cost of the demonstration is $49 and you may register online here.
Jeff Michaud pizza-making demonstration, Thu., June 25, 5:45-7:45 p.m. at Foster's Homewares, 399 Market St., 215-925-0950, shopfosters.com
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
The burgeoning South of South neighborhoods will be getting their very own food co-op soon, when Molly Russakoff's Bella Vista Natural Foods transforms from a conventional retail space into a cooperative grocery.
BVNF patrons and Bella Vista neighbors have all been enthusiastic about the possibility of a local co-op, writes Russakoff in an e-mail newsletter. But what is a co-op, exactly? How is it run?
These questions will be answered at a steering meeting Wednesday, June 10 at the Palumbo Rec Center, when Weaver's Way Co-op general manager Glen Bergman and Alex Moss, a founding member of Praxis Consulting Group, willï¿½ provide an overview of the current situations and options for BVNF.
Everyone is welcome to attend the meeting and find out how they can be a part of the BVNF cooperative. Anyone interested in volunteering with flyering and organization prior to the meeting should contact Molly atï¿½ email@example.com or 215-923-3367.
Bella Vista Food Co-op Meeting, Wed., June 10, 7 p.m., Palumbo Rec Center, 725 S. 10th St. (at Fitzwater)
Bella Vista Natural Foods, 1010 S. Ninth St., 215-923-3367
Saw this on Philly.com today, who picked it up from the Associated Press:
HOBOKEN, N.J. - Police say a man posing as a waiter collected $186 in cash from diners at two restaurants in New Jersey and walked out with the money in his pocket.
Diners described the bogus waiter as a spikey-haired 20-something wearing a dark blue or black button-down shirt, yellow tie and khaki pants.
Police say he approached two women dining at Hobson's Choice in Hoboken, N.J. around 7:20 p.m. on Thursday. He asked if they needed anything else before paying. They said no and handed him $90 in cash.
About two hours later he approached three women dining at Margherita's Pizza and Cafe. He asked if they were ready to pay, took $96 and never returned with their change.
While this is an extreme example, it is a reminder that cash is tempting.ï¿½ Hand your check to your server when it is in cash, especially if you are seated at an outdoor table. A competent server will come back to the table to collect your check and return your change as soon as possible, if they're smart.
This fake waiter must be an industry vet -- he even got the uniform right.
|Tip: Barefoot Grilling =
When you are traveling through the green suburbs of West Chester, Lancaster or North Wales and feel the need to feed, Iron Hill is always a good bet. The sprawling menu spans classic pub grub like beef and turkey burgers, as well as more elaborate preparations like the salmon of the day.
With seven locations in PA and DE and an eighth in the works in Maple Shade, NJ, Iron Hill is clearly doing something right with the brewpub formula. The brewers of Iron Hill racked up six medals at the Great American Beer Fest this year, taking their company GABF total to 27 ï¿½ which is one more than Stoutdt's, the original Pennsylvania craft microbrewery.
When Iron Hill Maple Shade opens in July, a notoriously pricey NJ liquor license will allow a full bar to accompany their signature brews and menu. Until you can take a speedy PATCO ride toward Vienna Lager and a Brewski Burger, executive chef Dan Bethard is sharing a few tips on grilling the perfect burger. May is National Hamburger Month, in case you need further justification.
Chef Dan Bethardï¿½s Burger Tips
* Ground chuck is the best type of beef for burgers
* Look for 80/20, rather than 90/10; otherwise, the meat will be too lean to create a perfect patty
* When forming patties, use cold beef and cold hands to avoid melting any of the flavorful fat away
* Be gentle; a firm, dense patty makes a rotten burger
* Heavily season the patty with kosher salt and black pepper just before grilling; any sooner, and it will dry out
* Sear the burger over the hot part of the grill, then flip and sear the other side
* Move the burger to a cooler part of the grill, and cook to desired temperature
* Only flip the burger once, and never, ever press the burger;ï¿½ it will lose its juiciness and flavor
Visit IronHillBrewery.com for locations and menus.
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